Long-time Cromrade Autumn is proposing an interesting experiment:
I hear all the time from Christians that they feel discriminated against in day to day life. I find myself skeptical. I pretended to be Christian for years to avoid discrimination and harassment. This lead me to an idea. I’m uncertain about it so I thought I would put it up here, while I was thinking about it. I propose to dress in a manner that visually links me to a particular faith (and/or denomination) and record how I am being treated. At the end of the experiment, I will compare my notes to see if there was any difference, and if so, what- in the way I was treated.
This would mean dressing with a devotional scapular and a crucifix to be “Catholic” or underclothes to mimic the look of the undergarments and a CTR ring or jewelry when being “LDS,” etc. An atheist t-shirt would be my atheist “test” and no visible signs of any religion would be my control.
She is looking for some feedback on both the research question and the ethics of deception. Go read over her proposal and see what you think. Feel free to cross-post your comments here as well. My own thoughts below the fold:
I have made no secret of my contempt for the idea of the “persecution” of Christians in North America. For all their complaints about how liberals whine and play victim over issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, and misogyny, the most patently obvious example of warrantless whinging comes from American Christians protesting the moderate losses to their entitlement in public life. Forcing everyone to play by the rules necessarily inconveniences those who have been living ‘above the law’ (literally, in some cases). I am a fairly sympathetic fellow, but I cannot conjure a whit of sadness for butthurt religious folks who are suddenly thrust into a world they had been conveniently ignoring/revising for centuries.
As such, I don’t have monumental expectations for Autumn’s ‘experiment’. Religious belief forms the background radiation of American life. People are inclined to assume, if asked the question, that a person about whom they otherwise know nothing probably holds some god belief; after all, that’s what the statistics would suggest. Issues of scientific rigour aside (how does one person measure discrimination against themselves objectively?), my question is what the findings would mean outside the context of Autumn’s own life. Let’s say she finds that she is discriminated against openly as an atheist, but not as a theist – to what extent is that experience shared by others? How do her other endogenous characteristics (race, age, gender, location) play a role? Are her interactions a representative cross-section of the population at large, or does her ‘convenience sampling’ of interpersonal interactions simply represent the kinds of people with whom she usually socializes?
If her goal is to gain some appreciation for the subjective experience of an overtly religious person trying to navigate a society that is more secular than ze is, then it could be a useful narrative exercise. It is important to note, though, that without actually having the core of belief that defines a religious person, it will be quite difficult to have the true visceral experience that would engender feelings of discrimination. Unlike the landmark work Black Like Me, where the object of camouflage was physical (and therefore easily counterfeited), Autumn is attempting to recreate a disguise that is largely internal – a much more difficult task.
Anyway, let her know what you think! Can it work? Are there ethical concerns? Is there a way to get a more useful scientific result?
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!